Regret is a strong feeling. It’s relatable, widespread, and pretty useless; after all no one has the tools to change the past. But we can use our insight to change our approach in the future. That being said, when thinking of years gone by, it’s hard to know how we would act and think if we were bestowed with the knowledge and insight gained through life, as a young whippersnapper.
Surely the 1980s perm would not be a thing. Ditto high neon-coloured pants, stonewashed jeans with joggers, and divulging to Jenny - your bestie James’ mum - how much you loved her on a beach in 1988 (Jenny stated the feelings weren’t mutual and then you weren’t allowed at James’ house any more).
This is also quite relevant to cycling. I asked a few veterans in the mountain bike scene (not necessarily in age!) what they thought was the most useful advice they would give themselves when they started cycling, from the viewpoint of what they know now.
Jo Rowell, masters cross-country mountain biker and professionally cheery athlete, said that going back to basics is a great way to gain confidence in a safe environment. “Practice the simple things, like track stands for balance,” she says, since these are basic skills that transfer across to the trail. For increasing confidence to the next level Jo reckons that a good teacher or coach is crucial. “Mountain bike skills are different to road skills, and a good teacher can help you to attain skills, practice, then build your confidence,” she explains.
“It’s also important to listen to your body and quit riding before you get too tired and have a stack! And in terms of progression, having a goal like completing an event or race is a good way to test yourself riding different types of trails.”
Angela, an elite gravity racer, has some other sage advice for the aspiring shredder. “Ride with people who are patient so you don’t feel pressured into keeping up with them or doing stuff you’re not comfortable with,” she explains. Hitting scary things too early can turn a ride from fun to terrifying in a few minutes, and can put riders off the sport permanently! She adds: “If you do ride by yourself, set some small goals and challenges for each ride, and always keep it fun.”
Angela also reckons the best way to get into the sport is to go to the top diving platform and jump right in. “When buying your first bike, buy the best you can afford. Don’t buy the “Big W Special” to see if you like it - that is just going to make the learning process that much harder!”
The nicest elite female XC racer on the circuit, Eliza Kwan, also weighs in. “From an XC racing perspective, get a coach you will work well with, and keep looking until you find that person. For me that’s made a big difference in getting fitter and stronger but also enjoying riding.”
“My coach has been really good at giving good advice to back off when I have needed it and also pushed me in a healthy way too when I have needed it,” she says. “From a general riding perspective, stop wishing you had started earlier! You have no control over the past and you are here enjoying it now, so just roll with that.”
My own advice? Be kind to yourself. If you can’t do something, it’s not forever; it may just be that you can’t do it today. Both physical and skill development vary between riders in terms of time for progression, and often those who take longer to reach peak form can sustain a high level in the sport for an extended period.
While time travel is purely science fiction, we can learn from those who have come before us in order to be the best we can be. What advice would you give yourself when you started, with the wisdom and experience you have gained to this point?